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Published: Sunday, 2/24/2008

Children's books receive Coretta Scott King awards

This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people written by four area teachers of children's literature. Today's are by Alexa Sandmann of Kent State University.

At the winter meeting of the American Library Association, the Coretta Scott King awards are given to an African-American writer and illustrator. Honor books are also chosen. The awards, named for the late Coretta Scott King, wife of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., honor his lifelong mission - respecting and valuing each human being. Additionally, the committee sometimes awards a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award or a New Talent Illustrator award, or both; this year, an Author Award was given.

ELIJAH OF BUXTON. Written by Christopher Paul Curtis. Scholastic Press. Ages 10 and up. $16.99.

Eleven-year-old Elijah lives in Buxton, Canada, the first free-born black child of this settlement of runaway slaves. Just over the border from Detroit, this town embodies hope for all of its inhabitants and for those who find their way to freedom there; a bell rings when they join the town, a welcome to their new life. Considered a "fra-gile" young boy, Elijah nevertheless becomes a youngster of great substance and courage by the end of this historical novel. The dialect and natural rhythm of the story suit its themes well. Curtis is right; the "real" Buxton and its people on whom this novel are based are an inspiration.

HONOR BOOKS

NOVEMBER BLUES. Written by Sharon Draper. Atheneum. Ages 12 and up. $16.99.

In the sequel to the Coretta Scott King Honor Book The Battle of Jericho, November has just lost her boyfriend, Josh, who died in a pledge stunt. Still absorbing this shocking event that occurred only two months ago, she is shocked once more - she is pregnant with his child. Her mother is devastated because she had other plans for her college-bound (maybe even Ivy League?) daughter. His parents seem to think that this grandchild should be raised by them. Sensitive and honest, this contemporary novel provides a thought-provoking text for teens as they make their own life choices.

TWELVE ROUNDS TO GLORY. Written by Charles R. Smith, Jr. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Candlewick Press. Ages 10 and up. $19.99.

A biography of heavyweight fighter Muhammed Ali told in free verse, the clipped lines and precise word choice reveal the sides of this complicated man. Adopting Islam as his faith, he refuses to be drafted into the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector. Stripped of his boxing titles, he stands strong for his beliefs and works to have his license and titles reinstated. Written as 12 poems, each a "round," his amazing life is revealed.

LET IT SHINE. Illustrated by Ashley Bryan. Atheneum. Ages 4 to 8. $16.99.

A rainbow of cut paper celebrates the joy inherent in three spirituals, "This Little Light of Mine," "Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In," and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." The joy within each song is lovingly played out in the figures of the children who fill every page. The light of love, hope, and peace are embodied in every illustration - "Let it shine," indeed!

HONOR BOOKS

THE SECRET OLIVIA TOLD ME. Illustrated by Nancy Devard. Written by N. Joy. Just Us Books. Ages 5-8. $16.95.

Crisp black-and-white illustrations relay the age-old consequence of sharing a secret, but with a happy ending since the transgressor confesses. Friends again, they both learn a lesson: secrets shared are no longer secrets. A red balloon, moving through the black-and-white text, pops as the truth is revealed - a striking visual representation. A fabulous text for young children, its truth is just as powerful for older readers.

JAZZ ON A SATURDAY NIGHT. Illustrated and written by Leo and Diane Dillon. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. Ages 5-12. $16.99.

This book-length poem celebrates America's contribution to the music world - jazz. Vivid illustrations and rolling verse compel the reader to appreciate the spontaneity and passion which are the cornerstones of this art form. A CD is included which not only provides background information about jazz and the musical instruments used to play it, but also features an original song, "Jazz on a Saturday Night," inspired by the paintings.

BRENDAN BUCKLEY'S UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING IN IT. Written by Sundee T. Frazier. Delacorte Press. Ages 9-12. $14.99.

In a poignant first novel for young people, Frazier reveals the difficulties of growing up as a mixed-race child.

Quite unexpectedly, 10-year-old Brendan discovers that the grandfather he has never met lived only a few miles from his home. Without parental knowledge, Brendan sets out to discover why this man is not a part of his life, and comes to embrace the truth - a role model for reconciliation and for hope of those with differences.



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